A picture of tuberculosis in young Portuguese people in the early 20th century: A multidisciplinary study of the skeletal and historical evidence



The aim of this study was to examine the evidence, and consider the differential diagnosis, for tuberculosis (TB) in juvenile individuals from early 20th century documented skeletons. There are 66 male and female juvenile individuals in the Coimbra Identified Skeletal Collection (CISC) with an age at death ranging from 7–21 years. The individuals died between 1904–1936 in different areas of Coimbra, Portugal. Eighteen of these individuals died from TB affecting different parts of the body. Thirteen (72.2%) showed skeletal lesions that may be related to this infection. Of the 48 individuals with a non-tuberculous cause of death, only 2 (4.2%) had skeletal changes that could be attributed to TB. The distribution of skeletal manifestations caused by the types of TB under study, based on macroscopic and radiological findings, is described and discussed. In addition, the medical records from 6 tuberculous individuals who died in Coimbra University Hospital (CUH) were analysed, and the information, including their diet and access to treatment, is presented. This work, based on data arising before antibiotics became available for treatment, can contribute to the future diagnosis of TB in non-documented skeletal material, and will facilitate a more reliable diagnosis of TB in juvenile individuals. Am J Phys Anthropol 115:38–49, 2001. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.